Thursday 21 November 2019

Karen O’Flaherty: A multilingual and IT-savvy workforce is what we must aim for

Karen O'Flaherty

IT IS not surprising to find that the two main areas of demand in the employment market at present are IT and multi-lingual skills -- across most disciplines from office to technical support.

IT is most certainly back as a major employment generator, with the market for both permanent and contract positions buoyant at present.

Demand also remains high, particularly from multi-nationals and shared-services companies, for accountants with language capabilities.

As a result, salary levels for these positions have tended to rise steadily.

In contrast, the professions affected most by the downturn, such as architects and civil engineers, have, in general, seen quite marked falls in pay rates, some by over 40pc.

This increased demand for IT and multilingual skills is not necessarily all good news, however. The biggest challenge with this growth in demand is the well documented skills shortage.

There is a risk here for Ireland. The country needs to continue to be seen as a hub for IT talent for the ongoing attraction of inward investment.

During the boom there was no problem attracting candidates from across the globe. However, with difficulties in securing visas and the perception of Ireland's weak economic situation, Ireland doesn't hold the same attraction for skilled international workers that it once did.

We need to retain confidence that talent is available and that Ireland has a strategic plan to ensure that future skills are available.

We currently have an excellent reputation for our skilled and available talent and we need to ensure the message remains for inward investors in the IT or other hi-tech sectors that we can continue to supply.

There is a need to ensure that members of the workforce of the future have at least one additional language. Even in areas like IT, there is recognition that future inward investors will require professionals who are, at least, bilingual.

Demand in the coming years is likely to come from largely the same areas and be for the same type of skills and qualifications as today.

Furthermore, the quickened pace of change within companies will continue and is likely to have an impact on skills requirements.

Those with science and mathematical backgrounds will increasingly find themselves working in areas like big data, and smart technologies will have an impact on all roles, disciplines and job titles.

This will also ask fundamental questions of our overall approach to education and skills. Competition for skilled professionals is now at a higher level than ever and is happening on a global stage.

For Ireland to have a competitive advantage and be seen as a global player, we have to strive to offer the best possible graduates and skilled professionals.

Considering the high level of unemployment in this country, reducing this number is, rightly, a national priority.

However, many of those currently out of work do not have the skill set to fill the vacancies which are being created at the moment. The focus needs to be on helping these people upskill.

Another feature of the market at present, which is likely to become more pronounced in future, is the very rapid changes in job specifications to match changes in organisations.

We are seeing situations where employers are beginning to change the specifications on the basis of the quality of the candidate they meet at interview.

But this flexibility will have to work both ways. When people do take up a position they have to be willing to change and upskill as time goes on. The idea of doing the same job for five years is a thing of the past.

People skills are equally important to any future employer and the need to marry your academic qualifications with good life and people skills should not be underestimated.

The education system is going to have to change to begin teaching languages to children at a very early age.

In a world where smart technologies will be dominant, I believe most opportunities in the future will require some reasonable skill level in maths, engineering, IT or science. This will place additional demands on our education system but they are demands that must be met if we are to continue to attract investment.

Having said that, a number of important steps have been taken to ensure that the country is producing the right graduates and the introduction of bonus points for maths has had a positive effect. More needs to be done but it is encouraging to know that the issue has been recognised and is being tackled.

Finally, one feature of the current market that should not be overlooked is the relative buoyancy in temporary and contract opportunities in comparison to permanent jobs.

We hear of people turning down temporary opportunities to wait for a permanent opening. I would advise anyone offered a contract or temporary position to take it.

Employers prefer to hire someone who is already in a post and that is one thing that hasn't changed in the market over the years.

Karen O'Flaherty is chief operations officer of Irish-owned global professional recruitment consultancy Morgan McKinley

Irish Independent

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